Thursday, September 29, 2011

How do you handle bad news?

There are lots of places to look for information on how to deal with the bad things that happen to you.  And there are many more to deal with the bad news you have to deal out to other people.  What I am wondering about is how you handle explaining to other people that something bad has happened to you.

Bad news is often made worse by the feeling that we have done something to deserve it.  We have a stake in taking responsibility for the bad things that happen to us because it creates the illusion that next time we can behave differently and so evade the bad things that happen.  Other people would prefer to believe that we caused our own problems because otherwise they have to admit that they are also vulnerable to bad stuff happening. So whether we are internally or externally motivated, we are motivated to take control of grief or suffering by accepting some degree of blame for it.

So admitting that something bad has happened is almost like admitting we have done something to allow bad stuff to happen, admitting that we have somehow caused our own pain.  That sort of hurts less than living in a world where pain just happens. It becomes hard to talk about what has happened without playing a game of true confessions.

From an NLP perspective, this creates a choice point, a situation in which none of the obvious choices is satisfying.  And what we do with choice points is to alter perception until there is room for movement within the choice point or room for different feelings around the choice point.

Think very briefly of something bad that has happened to you, something that still hurts. Allow that voice in your head to say its piece "you know that was your own fault" or "you know you should have gotten over that by now" or "you know that you can't allow yourself to get down about that." Let the voice in your head say its piece, and then tell yourself this instead:  "I can see myself sitting in the chair across the room, feeling sad and hurt."

Once you can see yourself (or even pretend that you can see yourself), you can move your head away.  Distract yourself.  Laugh, move, breathe.  Do some work (write a blog entry).  Begin to feel better.  And step out of that, too.  Tell yourself "now I can see me feeling better. But not really better, because I can still see the version of me in the chair across the room, feeling rotten."

As you consider the two people who are both you, ask yourself: which one of these do I believe caused this pain? If the answer is one or the other, edit that feeling. Then edit the original state.  (Edit means gather better feelings in your dissociated state, then step back into that person you can imagine you are seeing).

If you can't see a "you" that caused your own suffering, then you have a different kind of choice.  Either you can claim support for what you need, or you can accept that you live in a world where bad stuff happens.  Both require a difficult negotiation with your own determination to have control.  The first allows other people to deal with bad stuff through action.  It's probably easier for them to help than it is for them to focus on the facts.

That is probably good advice for you, too. If you live in a world where bad stuff happens, simply acknowledge the bad news then distract yourself by doing something. Action may lead to unpredictable results, but focus on the bad stuff you can't control leads to predictably, reliably bad feelings. When you've done everything you can do, then feel free to do something different.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New worlds require lots and lots of energy

I have been spending hours holding a new born baby in the last week.  She is tiny and perfect and tired.  She stretches and makes a face and then, halfway to a cry, falls back into sleep.  Her mom says it's because it's a big, scary, disorienting thing to be born.  Everything is new, not just outside but inside. She's never had to breathe and suck and swallow all at once before.  She's never had to notice so much with her eyes and her ears.  It takes some getting used to, and it takes some rest.

New parents, too, have been born into a new world and they find that their own experience echoes their baby's.  They, too, find that fingers and breath work differently in a world that includes their baby.  They don't eat or sleep or make choices in the same way.  They move between the wonder of their baby and the wonder of being able to close their own eyes and rest.

So often, we look back at a new beginning and remember it as a time of tremendous energy. It's the flip side of being tired: as we begin a new school, a new job, a new journey, we must find more energy than it usually takes to get us through the day.  Later, we remember that energy. At the time, we are what we are as newborns or as new parents: disoriented, tired, curious and sensitive to new vibrations, new vision and new possibilities.

A fresh start doesn't mean waking from a deep, restful sleep to a world where you know what to do and how to do it.  A fresh start means not quite knowing how things work, inside or outside, and being so tired by the effort to learn so much so quickly.  If you are feeling your way through a fresh start now, wrap your attention around that fragile being inside of you and let that child feel safe.  Let yourself rest a little more than usual.  You're doing the hardest work that human beings can do: you're being born into a new world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On the day you were born

For the first time in a long time, I have know quite a few people expecting babies this summer.  It's had me thinking lots about birth stories.  When a parent shares a story that starts "on the day you were born" magic happens.

It is not because babies always arrive in a planned-down-to-the-last detail way.  Birth is one of the few places were we let a beginning take care of itself.  Babies know when they should be born.  They know even when we think that conditions are not as perfect as they should be to welcome a new little person.

Some things are within our control, and most things are not.  Birth reminds us that miracles happen on days when the computer crashed and three people let us down and we were frustrated or struggling.  Babies don't ask whether their parents and all significant others are in the appropriate mood with all the appropriate arrangements made. They arrive according to their own schedule.

I wonder what that could mean for other kinds of birth.  We bring events and projects and companies into being and we often stress about getting the beginning exactly right.  We tell presenters that people remember first impressions, and that is true.  It is also true that badly planned, badly executed beginnings make success more difficult.  They do not, however, prevent small miracles.

If you get to control a beginning, go for it.  If you don't get to control the mood or the weather or the technology, then remember what you would remember if you were holding a newborn. The world is full of miracles and every beginning is a new opportunity.  It doesn't have to be perfect. It already is.

Friday, September 09, 2011

A Time of Waiting

This summer, I have posted metaphors and stories in a effort to condition myself to be more intentional about trusting my stories to communicate what I need to say.  I will continue to create and tell stories in my blogs, but as fall begins (everyone knows that Labour Day is really the final day of summer), I am going to add some more direct discussion of both what works and what stops us.

In eight days, we will hold NLP Canada Training's biggest single event of the year: The HOPE Symposium.  The week before the symposium is a killer: the conceptual planning is done. There are, of course, a million practical details to look after.  But mostly there are two questions:
1) What will the speakers actually do?
2) Now that I've built it, will the audience come?

The only really way to answer these questions is to live in uncertainty until the 17th of September. I can create clever campaigns to promote what I want, and I will have indications, but I won't actually know until the 17th.  This is a time of waiting.

At the same time, I am waiting for my sister's first baby to decide it is time to be born.  I am in favour of babies choosing their own time to come into the world: but that doesn't make waiting any easier.  We are all beginning to jump when the phone rings.

All of us encounter times when what we have to do is wait.  The question is not how to shorten those times: some things are better when they arrive in their own time.  The question is how to live through those times in the way that satisfies us best.

I wish I knew the answer.  Or perhaps I wish I didn't know.

The key, I think, is to be intentional about waiting, to notice that we are doing it and the impact it has on us. I do not merely mean that we need to be mindful (the noticing part) but that we need to wait on purpose. When waiting becomes something we do and not something that is happening to us, we can put some boundaries on it.  This is important, because waiting can seem like a condition that spreads like wildfire, paralyzing us in lots of unrelated areas just because we are so deeply engaged in waiting.

When you wait intentionally, you can be productive in other areas.  Please don't think this means that you will necessarily be distracted or comfortable.  It might mean that: sometimes we can escape into worthwhile activity while we are waiting. But sometimes being intentional about waiting means that we will feel the way we feel while waiting - without letting it stop us from being productive in other ways.

And notice that as you wait actively - with determination if not with patience - all that effort you put into waiting makes sense.  The heightened sensory acuity (some people call it jumpiness), the muscles tensed and ready for action, the urge to move.  These are all parts of how you do waiting.  When you check in with them, you can notice that you are following through on your intention to wait and since you are on track, you can get back to doing something productive.

Like writing a blog post.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Coyote laughter

Do you hear it? That's coyote laughing. I have been reading about coyote in a book from the West Coast about storywork. I like that term "storywork" - a term that means using stories to make a difference. It's a stronger term than "teaching tale." Of course a book on the way stories do work requires coyote. Coyote taught me the power of stories to make change happen. He also taught me not to pretend I could predict the way change would happen or what it would mean. That's not coyote territory. 

What I mean is this: when I was starting to train NLP, I let Coyote into the room one day (through a children's story by Thomas King). And once he was there, he stayed. Unpredictable leverage points came and went. So did laughter. There was a certain edginess in the room, but also an effervescence, a liveliness. That was coyote's doing. And I learned that a story is a call to a spirit or state, and that it makes changes in the way a day will unfold. On that day, I learned not only to tell stories, but to make them work.

 In Native stories, Coyote is somehow endearing although he causes endless havoc and quite a bit of laughter. I often think that Coyote explains a lot about how the world does and doesn't function and that we are missing something because our dominant mythologies (not all of them religious) do not make room for a trickster.

 Coyote is also good at howling in the face of pain and injustice and plans that don't work out. Coyote's life is full of injustice and plans that don't work out and that gives him his voice - loud and strong and persistent. He makes so much noise that sometimes the world adjusts itself to him. Sometimes things get better if you just make enough noise. It's an interesting learning for someone with cautious ears.

 I have been reluctant to invite coyote into the room. He is amazingly creative but not very comfortable and he makes it hard to run a business. I call lots of stories into the room who fit more easily into the way I like to teach. Almost everything seems better without coyote's endless schemes and loud interruptions. And yet, there is something about coyote that is irresistible, something that defies the need for order and defines us as being actively alive. I am afraid to call him back and yet I wonder when he will show up again. If the stories about him are true, he'll be back - whether I will it or not.

Coyote knows where the action is, and he always makes his way back.